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Around the Quack with ATQ

Much has been said this week about the current state of Duck basketball. Most has involved expletives and curses. Following the loss to Washington, I posed a few questions to the other ATQ editors and managers. Since the WSU game went much the same, there was little need to alter our responses. Check out our round table discussion, and please jump in with your thoughts.

The young Ducks just took a 84-67 beating in The Pit versus Washington. I can't say I like our chances against WSU any better. So I'm posing a few questions to see where we stand.

Is it safe to say wins and losses are of no consequence this year? If so, how do we, and more importantly, the administration, measure Ernie's performance? Does Ernie get a complete pass on the 2008-09 season? Has he earned that? In a year where we could go 0-18, 1-17 or 2-16 in Pac-10 play, what exactly would constitute progress for the men's basketball program?


jtlight: At the beginning of the season, I would have said Ernie had a pass. Even during the preseason, we had some tough losses, but also beat some decent teams. There were good victories over Alabama and Kansas State, while the team went against the best in the nation. Though this didn't turn out well, it could have been a time for the team to grow.

And then, something happened. The Pac-10 conference schedule hit, and...well, what do you say. The veterans are not leading. Ernie is not leading, and the team has looked to regress. It's not even that the team is losing. It's the way in which they are losing. Will this continue the whole season? I really hope not. But if these losses continue, I don't think a pass can be given. At some point, you have to see some sort of growth over a season.

ntrebon: I think there are two questions in terms of Kent getting a pass for the results of this season.  First, *should* he get a pass?  And, second, *will* he get that pass?  Before the season began, I went on record saying that barring an OSU-like 0-18 conference record, Kent *should* earn a pass, given all he has done for Oregon basketball combined with all the new players coming in this year.  However, given all the uncertainty about Kent's contractual status, I am not sure that the University would extend the same pass for a mediocre-but-not-quite-disaster performance.  However, like Jared mentioned, the Pac-10 schedule thus far has been an unmitigated disaster and if Kent and the team do not turn things around, I think it will be very likely that Kent will not be back next season.

JConant: So far, it seems most of us are willing to give Ernie credit for his total body of work with the program. Regardless of how bad it goes this year, I think administration and fans should give him at least two seasons with this group of freshmen. Not everyone will be that gracious. Pass or no pass, there must be evaluation. I share Jared's frustration with the Ducks seemingly going backwards following a reasonable non-conference showing. Totally unacceptable during a rebuilding stage. I believe that a "fire Ernie" bandwagon will get rolling soon. I'm not going to get on it so long as I see some of the following: a) an improving shooting percentage (39.3% as of 1/16); b) at least a slight drop in opponents shooting percentage (45.1%); c) a decrease in turnovers (15.7 per game); and d) an increase in Michael Dunigan's minutes per game (20.7), an indication he's learning to have an impact without being in constant foul trouble.

The Ducks have played 17 games. If I'm the CEO of this company I want to see improvements in these key areas during the final 14 games.

jtlight: It's tough to make a "fire Ernie" judgment at this point. We're 5-6 games into an 18 game conference schedule. We could see improvement. But if Oregon keeps getting obliterated, there's just no excuse for that, and that falls on the coaching staff.

In my mind a big problem with Ernie is how he treats his players. During the whole Tajuan Porter benching saga, there was talk of Porter finding himself in the offense. And part of me thinks, "You're the coach! You tell him what his place is, and he executes that." But I don't know if Ernie always plans on that level. I just don't see him as having a system, or a plan, and that can lead to what we're seeing now.

It can be turned around, but if this play continues the rest of the season, it will be incredibly hard to defend Ernie. Assuming that we lose Pac-10 games by an average of 15 points per game, that would be a coaching disaster of epic proportions.

dviera: Before the season, I was firmly in the "Keep Ernie" camp but after the Pac-10 Season opened, I've gradually moved down to indifferent. I know the issues we have aren't all his fault but I'm not sure we should be in this situation in the first place. Ernie is a great recruiter, no doubt about it but I'm starting to lose faith that he is a good team manager. We aren't the only team in the Pac-10 with a large freshman contingent. Washington State has 9 freshman on their team. Arizona State, who is making a bid to win the conference this year, is rolling with 7 freshman. Ernie has to somehow adjust his schemes to account for our bad shooting and go away from "Ernie Ball" until the team can support doing it. To make a comparison to football, Ernie has to do what Chip Kelly did with Roper and the offensive in the Sun Bowl last willing to change every he knows to help his team concentrate on their strengths. At some point, you have to realize what you are doing isn't working and adjust accordingly.

PaulSF: It's relatively difficult for me to not come to Ernie's defense.  He has single-handedly taken the Oregon program to another level (or two!) by running a fast-paced style and recruiting incredibly athletic talent from all around the nation to fit within that style.  But, as Jared said, he seemingly doesn't appear to be in control at times like this.  In previous seasons, we've seen this same type of inconsistency, and at this point, I'm almost ready to accept that for every two disappointing, disasterous seasons (like this one), there's another Elite Eight miracle run.

But it begs the question: When is that not enough?

JConant: Good question from Paul.

From the comments made recently by Pat Kilkenny regarding the basketball program and the new arena, I think the answer is soon, very soon. The school - and the many donors - have made the commitment to having big-time facilities. At that point the pressure will be on Ernie to deliver big-time results on a more consistent basis.
As for judging Ernie? He's earned plenty of patience and understanding in my book. For now. The whole picture changes the day the Ducks start playing in the new arena. If - heaven forbid, 'cause I like the guy and his Oregon pedigree - Ernie isn't the right guy for the job, that new arena might serve to attract another big name coach in the same manner it's intended to attract blue-chip recruits.

jtlight: Another important thing to consider is that when teams are bad, this is some of the most painful basketball to watch. When teams don't play with passion, don't play disciplined, and can barely execute basic basketball, fans can only take so much before starting to check out.

Lapses will happen, and I think a lot of fans can take that. But when lapses happen in this fashion, people will lose interest in Oregon basketball. With a new arena on the way, that simply cannot happen. Interest must increase, not decrease. If this team was disciplined, was showing improvement, and played hard every minute, fans would be excited. But that's not what we're seeing. Against WSU we saw terrible passing, shooting, screens, you name it. This will not fly when the University wants a packed house every night. And with ticket prices going up, it will be even more difficult.

PaulSF: Right, but let's not forget: there are six (SIX!) freshman on this team, and all of them are playing a role, including two or three starters. It's way too early to start demanding discipline.

I agree with both Jeremy: When the Knight Arena opens, we'll need results. But right now, just a win would be nice.